In the last few weeks, we have looked at the speeches of Stephen and Peter in the Book of Acts. Today we will look at one of the first speeches of Apostle Paul in his ministry to the Gentiles at Pisidian Antioch of Asia Minor in the Roman Empire. According to the historians, Paul and Barnabas came to the city of Antioch during the reign of Claudius (41-54 A.D.), when the city was at its height of importance as a colony of the Roman Empire. Antioch had been made a Roman colony by Caesar Augustus in 25 B.C. and was the governing and military centre of the southern half of the vast province of Galatia. New roads were built around it from Southeast to Southwest as a link from Ephesus to the East. Paul and Barnabas utilized this advantage in ancient transportation to spread the word of the Lord. The city had a mixed population of Romans, Greeks, Phrygians and Jews; just like today in Sydney, we see many different races as a multi-cultural city. Antioch was also a multi-cultural city in its old days. And Paul, as the missionary to the Gentiles, carried God’s Word to this Gentile world as the blessing and salvation of Christ continued to spread through the preaching of the Gospel.
1) Witnessing Christ through biblical history
In Antioch, Paul was invited by the leaders of the synagogue to speak words of exhortation to the people, so Paul gave a selective history of Israel through the events of God liberated Israel from slavery in Egypt, helped Israel conquered the Promised Land, and gave them a leader like King David. Similarly, he pointed out that God is acting in a similar way to liberate and conquer the Gentiles as the Good News of the Kingdom of God spreading toward Romans. God has given them a leader, the Messiah Jesus, the Saviour, the Son of David that God has promised in the Scripture. Jesus is the greater one that John the Baptist mentioned when he preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.
Paul proclaimed the Good News of Salvation to both the Jewish and Gentile audiences in the synagogue, saying in verse 26, “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.” Christ’s Gospel is universal. It is not for a single tribe or race; it is for every nation. That should be our attitude when we bring the Gospel to our friends and neighbours, no matter what their background. “32 We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my son; today I have become your father.'” God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ 35 So it is also stated elsewhere: “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.” (Acts 13:32-35) Paul’s quote is from Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 55:3 and Psalm 16:10, respectively. Only dead bodies will decay into bones, but Jesus is alive as the power of God raised him three days after his death on the Cross; he is not a corpse or a zombie. Jesus is not dead but living as the Giver of Life. This universe is created through Him and sustained by Him. He is alive today as much as he was 2000 years ago. That is why the Scripture said God’s holy one, that is, Jesus of Nazareth, will not see decay. He is the source of eternal life. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ will live forever on the Day of Resurrection.
This is the reason why when Paul witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection in his speech at Antioch, he also brought up the fulfilment of the Old Testament Scripture, showing to the people that all of God’s Word, that is, the Law and the Prophets, support and point to Christ’s redeeming death on the Cross and his supernatural resurrection from the dead. It proves Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Saviour of the World proclaimed by the prophets. Jesus is the divine blessing from the Father in Heaven. He is God’s promise to King David. It was important for Paul to address to his audience that Jesus is a member of David’s royal lineage in the king’s line, the Son of David, One who is God’s promise throughout the history of Israel. Jesus is God’s chosen Messiah to bring forgiveness of sins.
Therefore, to the Jewish and Gentile believers in the audiences, Paul argues that Jesus is the key to Israel’s future. His sermon is about the conviction that Jesus’ death and resurrection mark the necessary fulfilment of Israel’s entire scriptural canon, in both the law, which is the first five books of Moses in the Old Testament and the Prophets, including the four major prophet books, the twelve minor prophet books, book of Joshua to 1 and 2 Samuel. If we read the Old Testament, it is always good to find where does it point to Jesus Christ, this Christ-centred approach of studying the Bible can help us appreciate more about God’s salvation plan, knowing Christ better of his purpose, personhood and mission on earth, and linking both the Old and New Testament together as one Holy Word of God.
When we share the Gospel with non-believers, we need to be firm that everything Jesus does, including his death and resurrection, is part of God’s plan of salvation for the human race. It was prophesized and promised for 2000 years from Abraham to Moses to King David. It was fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a makeup religion from the first century A.D., but a continuity of the Old Testament since the beginning of time, and the entire Bible is pointing to Jesus Christ our Lord. The Gospel message about Jesus, our Saviour, is the centre of the Bible as a whole. In the writing of Luke, the author of the book, Luke depicted Jesus’ death on the Cross as a result of ignorance, evil, and collaboration with the Romans. As Paul said in Antioch, “27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the Cross and laid him in a tomb.” (Acts 13:27-29) Jesus died in obedient fulfilment of his God-given mission. He suffered and died because he sought to reach the lost and the outcast.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, God’s purposes for the world are realized through his servants, with Jesus his Son as the prime example, and to all of Christ’s followers who are obedient to the purpose of God. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are divine confirmation that Jesus’ obedience is part of the purposes of God, to fulfil God’s promises to humankind. Salvation is here and now. What a blessing we have in Jesus! No pandemic, sickness, poverty, pain, or death can separate us from the Love of God, who freely gave us his One and Only Son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, which brings us to our second point today.
2) Forgiveness of sins through Christ alone
After Paul has given his testimony about Jesus, he said in verse 38, “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39) The application point of Paul’s testimony of the gospel story is the forgiveness of sins through Jesus. As John the Baptist had proclaimed before Jesus, all the people of Israel needed to express radical repentance, to be ready to meet their God. Prophets of the Old Testament also promised definitive forgiveness and cleansing as an essential part of the renewal of Israel in the end time. For example, Jeremiah 31:34 declares, “No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Our church’s vision is ‘to know Christ and make Him known’, it is in our spiritual DNA from the beginning of this church that we should learn and study the Bible to know Jesus better and to tell people about Jesus and God’s salvation through Jesus Christ alone so that God will forgive sins of those who listen and believe. He will remember these sins no more. The barrier of sins that separate us from the Holy God has been broken down by the holy blood of Jesus, with his life given up for us on the Cross. This is God’s gift for us, and we should learn the footstep of the Apostles to bring the Good News to our neighbours and loved ones and other people we don’t know so that they will have a chance to be saved by the Gospel.
I know that the pandemic has hit hard this year. Many people in our church might feel lost in hope under the lockdown and diseases and death. Your dreams might be delayed or shattered by the reality in this world. But brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you to put your dream and trust in God’s kingdom instead. Where no one and nothing can bring it down, each person who comes to Jesus and humble down before him, God will raise him. God will use him as an instrument to spread the Good News of Jesus, no matter what is your profession or if you are only a student at the moment. Jesus cares about you; God will forgive all of your sins and justify you from the coming judgment, which means he will cancel all of your offences against Him because of Jesus Christ. So keep your faith in Jesus and stay strong. Don’t let your hopes down. When you put your hope in Jesus instead of the things and successes of this world, the reward from heaven will last forever. And do not drift away from Jesus, as I have seen some have been in the past few years. As Apostle Paul proclaimed in verses 39 and 40, “Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happened to you:” (Acts 13:39-40) And what the prophets have said that might happen to our generation? Continue in verse 41, “‘ Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'” (Acts 13:41) Paul was quoting from the book of Habakkuk chapter 1 verse 5. Originally prophet Habakkuk addressed the Israelites to warn them that they will perish in the approaching attack of the Chaldeans, that is, the Babylonians, because they are unbelievers at heart, who remain unconvinced about God and his purposes. The immediate relevance of these words to Apostle Paul’s audiences in Antioch is that God has done in their days to fulfil the messianic promises by raising Jesus from death. Paul and Barnabas have proclaimed this and offered them the forgiveness and justification achieved by Christ in his death and resurrection. So his audiences, just like us today, must choose which side of the prophetic cause they will embrace. Suppose they are the scornful opponents of Jesus, like those in Jerusalem, or that of the believing disciples of Jesus, like Paul and his associates. If they do not believe, they will perish in the coming judgment of God.
3) Two types of responses to the Gospel
The warning from the prophets and apostles are as relevant to us today as it was 2000 years ago. Jesus is coming soon, so does God’s judgment on the earth. Only those who believe will be saved. Are you the scoffers who don’t really trust God, or one who genuinely want to follow Jesus? This is the typical result of hearing the Gospel, as the evangelistic tool “2 Ways to Live” has portrayed in the last box. You can choose Jesus Christ to be the king of your life, and you will reap eternal life, or you can choose to let yourself be the master of your own life without God and Christ, and you will reap eternal judgment. Blessed are those of you who put your faith in Jesus, for your future is secured. But to those of you who are still considering if you want to follow Jesus or not, not yet been baptized, I urge you to let the Holy Spirit guides your heart and make that choice to receive his calling. Today’s sermon from Apostle Paul serves as a call from God as well as a divine warning. What God want you to do, and your response is clear.
A 17th Century Puritan theologian, John Owen, once wrote, “Satan’s greatest success is in making people think they have plenty of time before they die to consider their eternal welfare.” Don’t let the devil trick you. Response to God’s calling and turn to Christ, and never drift away again as many did in the time of trouble. Stay firm in Jesus, and God will keep you in his strong and caring hand.
Now back to the story: After Paul and Barnabas left the synagogue, people invited them to come back and speak more next weekend. And many Jews and Gentile converts follow the apostles. And under God’s blessing, the following Saturday, the whole city gathered to hear the word of God. But so do the Jews were filled with jealousy when they saw the crowds and attacked Paul. Jealousy at the success of others is sadly a common human failing, and religious leaders are especially vulnerable to such behaviour. And the final expression of jealousy is organized persecution resulting in expulsion from the region. So since that time, Paul leaving the Jews and bringing the message of salvation to the Gentiles in the other areas under the Spirit’s guidance. Paul gave them a warning and went to Iconium at the end of the chapter.
When the Gospel is preached, just as today, there are two types of responses, and often, it might or might not be the last chance for a person to hear the Gospel. You can either choose to be in God’s team or your own team. You can either respond to Jesus’ call to return to God or choose to live your life in your own way as it used to be. Everyone has two ways to live after hearing the gospel message. There is no in-between. You cannot say, I will wait a bit later, for not standing firm to turn to Christ means you remain to the other side as you were born. That is the sad thing to hear of someone stay in Adam’s race, refusing to take the leap of faith and turn to Christ. The eternal consequence is severe. Eternal life or eternal death – there is no in-between.
So if you haven’t been confirmed what you believe, here is a chance for us to confess to God in the name of Christ, and Jesus promised to erase all your sins again and give you the gift of eternal life.
Your Cross the bridge into God’s family when you prayerfully ask Christ to come into your life. The Bible says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
So how to receive Jesus in your life?
- Admit your need, knowing that we are sinners.
- Be willing to turn from your sins and ask God to forgive you. This is called repenting.
- Believe that Jesus Christ died for you on the Cross and rose from the grave.
- Through prayer, invite Jesus Christ to come in and control your life through the Holy Spirit, that is, to receive Christ as Lord and Saviour.
If you are willing to answer God’s call, please join me now for this prayer:
Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I want to turn from my sins, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe He died for my sins and that You raised Him to life. I want Him to come into my heart and to take control of my life. I want to trust Jesus as my Saviour and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen!